Stefanidi plotting an indoor path towards title defence in Berlin

Ekaterini Stefanidi flying high at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
European Athletics

Ekaterini Stefanidi will be defending the first of her four titles at the European Championships in Berlin next summer

There are two main reasons why Ekaterini Stefanidi cannot wait for next year’s European Athletics Championships in Berlin.

One is the new experience of being a defending champion looking to retain her title; secondly, she has never taken part in an event in the most historic of track and field venues.

“I am really excited about it,” she said on the prospect of competing in the Berlin Olympic Stadium. “Each year (at the ISTAF) it is all men, so I have not competed there.”

With the outdoor season all but drawn to a close, ahead lies the most decisive part of any athlete’s year: the long, tough months of toil and training to get the body just right for the pursuit of gold on the horizon.

Stefanidi heads into that period after an extraordinary season. When she cleared 4.85m in Brussels last Friday night at the IAAF Diamond League final, it was her 15th successive victory - indoors and out - this year.

Having won the Olympic and European titles in 2016, she began her season on a similar note by winning the European indoor title in Belgrade in March before securing her first world title in London last month.

It has been quite a journey for the 27-year-old and she is already relishing the challenge which Berlin will bring, when her name is announced as the defending champion.

Will it be harder to keep hold of a title than to win it in the first place?

“I like it when other people put pressure on me, I do not have to do it myself. It will be a first and I am excited,” she said.

“It will be as hard as it was going into London. Going into the Olympics in Rio, people were expecting me to do well, there was definitely a lot more pressure.”

As her record shows, Stefanidi does not crumble when the heat rises and the tension grows. The world-leader has been superb once again this year, waiting while her rivals clear the early heights before, so often, delivering with a sucker-punch of a first vault and then progressing to victory - not that she doesn’t take her success for granted.

“Every meeting I go into I know anybody can jump higher,” she said. “I go into a meeting confident and knowing I am consistent at 4.75-4.80m but if you come in thinking that [you are unbeatable] that is when you can lose.

“It has been a crazy run and as with anything, there is a little bit of luck.”

Berlin will be extra special because it will be part of sporting history. As the German capital hosts athletics, Glasgow is staging the aquatics, cycling, golf, gymnastics, rowing and triathlon as part of the inaugural multi-sports European Championships.

The countdown is very much on. There are 328 days until this sporting spectacular begins, and the groundwork for Stefanidi will begin back in Ohio where she is based with her husband and coach Mitchell Krier, himself a pole vaulter.

But do not think it is all about warm-weather training with the sun shining down as they go through their daily routines – and herein lies perhaps the reason for her brilliant success.

“After Beijing (in 2015) I made a big change,” said Stefanidi. “I moved away with my husband, he started coaching me and at the time a lot of people did not like the idea but it has clearly worked out since.

“We are based in Ohio. He felt it was important that we train indoors and keep the consistency.

“People ask me why I am so consistent and I say that we train that way indoors where the conditions are always the same. Even in Greece where we go in the summer. We spend four months there and train indoors.

“I train so consistently, I know exactly what I am doing and where my step is. I get affected the least when we come out of the conditions because I know exactly what to do. A little bit of wind means you might have to move your step out a bit, but even in the boiling heat in Greece, we are still indoors.”

But outdoors is the big target. Berlin, a huge crowd, the blue track glistening, her name being announced to the crowd, the history seeping from the walls of this famous arena - and the chance to win the European title for a second time.

More information on the 2018 European Championships:

- The Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships will be part of the first multi-sport European Championships along with co-hosts Glasgow.

- It will be a must-watch, must-attend experience that elevates the status of European Champions, uniting existing European Championships to celebrate the highest honour in European sport and celebrating the defining moments that create Champions.

- It is the continent’s ultimate multi-sport event, an 11-day celebration of European sport staged every 4 years.

- Seven of Europe’s leading sports (athletics, aquatics, rowing, golf, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon) will be brought together for the first edition.

- The European Athletics Championships in Berlin will be staged 7-12 August. The six other sports will be staged in Glasgow through 2-12 August. 

- 4,500 athletes and 52 nations will compete across the seven sports. 

- Potential TV audience of over 1 billion with millions more across multiple digital platforms. 

- Over half a million spectators expected.